Anniversary of a Miracle

Right before the Feb. 22 game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers, Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and Vegas’ Max Pacioretty took the ceremonial opening puck from Team USA captain Mike Eruzione. Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle” team, scored the winning goal against the Soviet National hockey team exactly four decades ago. Frozen in time is veteran sportscaster Al Michaels shout of exuberance:” Do you believe in Miracles? YES!”

Having spent most of my adult life in New England, I have always been impressed with the popularity of the sport of hockey in this part of the country. Fans and players al

ike indulge in the culture; stories of the big bad Bruins of Orr, Esposito and Company are still told. Back in the day, there were popular bumper stickers and tee shirts that read: “Jesus Saves… Esposito scores on the rebound!”

As an older student attending college here at UNH Durham, I was pleased to discover that many of the college kids are aware of the Bruins legacy, and also the Miracle on Ice that occurred in Lake Placid, New York during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Their knowledge of the event has been boosted, I am sure, by the movie Miracle (2004, Walt Disney Pictures). I suspect that kids these days hear stories about that iconic hockey team from friends and family, during dinner table conversations when they were growing up.

Prior to the historic 4-3 over the Soviets, Team USA got off to a tentative start in Group B, tying Sweden 2-2 on February 12, 1980. Then the Miracle team began to hit its stride, defeating Czechoslovakia 7-3 on February 14th.

Two nights later came the Group B victory over Norway, 5-1. Then on Feb. 18, the United States whipped Romania 7-2. Two nights later it was a 4-2 win over West Germany.

Now came the semifinal against the Soviets.

Eruzione, in a recent USA Today interview (USA Today Sports), told the story of how he spent the night before the game. He caught a ride to a campground a few miles from the Olympic village and relaxed with his parents and friends of the family over a couple of beers and a barbecue. It wasn’t until after the game, he said, that most of the team realized the overwhelming impact his team had on the sports world, and the entire country.

You can watch the USA Today Sports interview here:

After the iconic 4-3 win over the Soviets, the United States defeated Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal. Another scene frozen in time is goalie Jim Craig, draped in the American flag, skating around the ice and mouthing the words, “Where’s my father?”

On a cold early February afternoon in Durham this semester, I placed a call to the office of Mike Eruzione at Boston University. Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 Miracle team, scored the game winning goal against the Soviet Union. Recognizing that he would be very busy with the 40th anniversary celebrations panned for the Miracle team this year, I left a polite message and walked over to Hamel Recreation Center for some long overdue exercise. I was just about to enter the rec center when Mike called me back, ten minutes after I left a message. I was floored! Feeling like a kid again, I mentioned this to the staff at the front desk; they benevolently provided me with a quiet office to conduct my phone interview.

Eruzione that day was preparing for the upcoming 40th anniversary ceremonies which would take place in Las Vegas. I asked him what it was like dealing with celebrity status every day.

“I’ve been doing it for forty years,” he said, a smile in his voice. “Besides the recurring events at Lake Placid, myself and other members of the team travel extensively and speak to the public. Just recently I was in Ft Wayne (IN) and spoke to about a thousand people in conjunction with Purdue University.”

Eruzione and his spouse have three children and five grandchildren. He currently holds the position of Director of Special Outreach at his alma mater. Originally un-recruited as a hockey player, I was surprised and pleased when he told me who he initially wanted to skate with as a college player.

“I really liked the University of New Hampshire in Durham,” Eruzione said. “Both the campus and the program impressed me. I had attended Berwick academy, where I played baseball, football and hockey. While attending Merrimack college, I played in a baseball summer league and came in to contact with Jack Parker. Parker was an assistant coach at Boston University at the time; the head coach was Leon Abbott. I ended up making the varsity team at BU as a freshman; while playing there I was a center and left wing.”

I asked about the Miracle Team's coach, Herb Brooks, who passed away after a single vehicle accident in 2003.

“Herb Brooks and (BU coach) Jack Parker were similar, in that they were in your face coaches,” Eruzione told me. “It was like a relationship with your father; you love him, but there is an edge there.”

"‘Coach Brooks’ style of play was innovative at the time,” Eruzione said. “It was a European style, featuring skating and puck control."

In 1985, I had a chance to visit the Olympic village in Lake Placid, New York. Nestled in the Adirondack mountains, the village sparks one’s imagination with the European look to the landscape, as well as ski and other sports venues still visible years after the competitions. (Lake Placid was the site of the 1932 Olympics, as well as 1980.)

On this particular day, I entered the Lake Placid Olympic Center. With no building maintenance or other tourists in sight, I went down to what has now been named the Herb Brooks Arena.

Standing by the plexiglass, I squinted and imagined the heroes of 1980 performing their Miracle, over and over again. Their names will live on for posterity.

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